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September 4, 2012

Beauty Travelogue: Istanbul

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All that time invested in scrubbing and pummeling the body—so what about the face? Well, save for the raw ingredients and a few natural salves found in the traditional bazaars, I'm hard-pressed to unearth many local skincare wares.

"Our grandmothers just used natural oils and soap on their skin," reveals Asli Sümer, the 40-something founder of the buzzy artSümer gallery. "But traditions shift with each generation. Women now rely on European and American brands."

One U.S. brand that's made a big splash in Turkey is the famously kelp-infused La Mer, which launched in Istanbul six years ago. (Could its success be a tribute to the Bosphorus?) With the introduction of The Moisturizing Soft Cream, an insanely hydrating potion delivered with a new, Cool Whip-esque consistency, the brand's looking to win even more devotees in balmy locales like Istanbul. "I labored over this formula for four years," says Loretta Miraglia, head of product development at La Mer. "We make 1,000 kilos at a time, but the first few batches simply weren't right, so I rejected them." They finally nailed it on the fourth try.

Strolling through Istanbul's sprawling neighborhoods, I discover that Turkish women aren't shy about glamour. Thick kohl eyeliner and glossy lips are as ubiquitous on bar-hoppers in Beyoglu as they are on Turkish CNN's morning news anchors.

"At first I was shocked to see all that makeup," says Shelley Lashley, a British-born makeup artist who's lived in Istanbul for five years. "Even brides want sexy, smoky eyes. I was so used to the virginal look for weddings," she adds appreciatively.

Her hang-up: When it comes to her work for fashion campaigns, the models cast are often fair-skinned Nordic blondes—a stretch for the average Istanbul native.

Asli Yonter (apparently, "Asli" is this nation's "Jen"), a 30-year-old gallery assistant to Sümer, isn't phased by the Western beauty influx. She pegs it as an appreciation for European sensibility, citing Vanessa Paradis and Audrey Tatou as beauty icons. "It reflects how international we've become," she says.

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